The USDA estimates that 2012 U.S. per capita beef consumption for 2012 will be around 54.1 pounds, a drop from 2011's estimate of 57.4 pounds. The 2011 number represents a 13 percent decline from 10 years ago and a 25 percent decline from 1980, Reuters reports.
The beef industry is coping with these changes by developing new cuts that will satisfy appetites for steaks but at a lower cost. Also, it has benefited from a huge recovery in beef exports particularly to Asia and Russia, where consumers are upgrading their diets and concerns about mad cow disease fade.
Beef companies, like Tyson Foods, JBS, Cargill, and National Beef, are carving up beef carcasses in interesting new ways. Carcass portions that were once meant for ground meat or roasts, such as rounds and chucks, are now sliced into cheaper cuts of steaks, such as the Flat Iron, for the American palate. Retailers are also promoting higher-end cuts in smaller portions.
"We have been successful in maintaining sales and item movement by producing smaller and thinner packages of our more expensive beef items," said Karen May, external communications manager for Supervalu.
Ground beef sales, however, are doing well in this economy. Ground beef sales in dollar terms rose 7 percent in the last 52 weeks while steak cuts increased 1.3 percent, according National Cattleman's Beef Association data.
The higher-end cuts are also becoming more popular overseas.
"Americans are cutting back. We've consumed ourselves to a plateau, but the growth and demand is there for exports," said Chandler Keys, spokesman for the U.S. subsidiary of Brazil's JBS.